Is it the poisonous additives in the food? Is it the soaring incidence
of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)? Is it the dangers associated
with car seats and transporting young children in motor vehicles? The
explosion of the numbers of children with Attentions Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?
What about HIV/AIDS and Bird Flu and Swine Flu and SARS and the return of Cholera?
Could it be the explosion of child molestation and sex and
inappropriate TV? What about gaming consules and SMS addiction and
cyber-addiction more generally?
Then there are the parties and teenage drinking and drug pushers in the
schools and the danger of guns in the homes of their friends. And don’t
forget the explosion of criminality in general and rape in particular.
Parents have always had to contend with the world. Wars, famine,
prowling predators and deadly childhood illness have long been the real
and present danger in the minds of the human parent.
The difference with our modern life is NOT that the dangers are
greater. They are different and by-and-large not nearly as deadly as
they have been for much of human history.
The difference today is that in modern capitalism fear sells.
The voice wheedling in our ear, or screaming at us says: “Buy this car
seat if you care about your child! It’s only R1200. What price do you
put on his delicate eggshell head? Buy it now! Or carry the guilt
The denizens of our modern capitalist economy constantly ask us whether
we REALLY care about our children. In this argument no product has to
actually prove its worth. The car seat, the cot, the private education,
the special bike helmet, the expensive childhood vitamins and
anti-viral snake oils, the burglar bars, the childproofing, the cram
colleges – they just have to assert: this MIGHT help. Therefore if you
refuse to buy the product you don’t care about the life and happiness
of your child. What kind of person are you?
Can you imagine a customer more vulnerable to manipulation than a
parent? Everything about our evolution causes us to fear for our
children – their safety and their advantage in the world.
So the pedlars of products with dubious value to the safety and success
of bearing and raising children are one category of person I blame for
having damaged the joy I still feel – despite them - at being a father.
But there is a category of person and thing that irritates me even
more. The people who make a living dispensing childrearing advice, the
books they write and the temporary dogmatic movements that flower
around them. Now I must be careful here. There are countless wonderful
parents and supporters of parents who have written books that gently
assist us through the minefield; and I thank them and value them.
But there is another category of “expert” that is in my sights. This is
the “expert” who has turned being a bully into a profession – and they
seem able to recruit whole bands of acolytes and neophytes who become
the soldiers in their temporary cause.
Whether babies sleep on their backs or on their sides becomes the cause
in a new kind of holy war. Do we leave the baby to cry or do we always
pick it up when it is weepy? Feeding on demand or structured feeding
times? Dairy and wheat in the child’s diet? Innoculations? Stimulation
or quiet? These seem to be issues at which people sneer at each, and
frankly, would stone each other if they could get away with it.
It is impossible not to notice that things that were certain at one
time, that everybody agreed upon, are suddenly pooh-poohed: certainty
about putting the baby on his or her back becomes a big forbidden and a
leading cause of SIDS; widely encouraged infant formula becomes a no-no
and breast feeding is suddenly always best; beating the child, hugely
approved of in – at least - the Christian bible (Proverbs 13:24) now
becomes, in most circumstances, an offence punishable under the law.
At the heart of my gripe is that there is not a whole lot of difference
between the new ‘must have’ safety or educational toy/product/nutrition
and the new childrearing expert and methodology. They are both items
being sold on the market; and they are both using and manipulating
parental fear and guilt as central to their sales pitch.
So do me if a favour: if you are pronouncing on the techniques, styles
and appropriate paraphernalia of the job of child rearing, don’t be so
sure of yourself! Don’t come across like you have the divinely inspired
truth at your fingertips, in your mouth or in your book. We have all
got to eat, but to play on our guilt, our hopes and our fears for our
children crosses the line between marketing and scaremongering.
There are enough real and commonsense things to worry about in this
world. We don’t need trumped up “experts” inventing new syndromes and
terrors to part us with our hard-earned money – and as a side effect,
diminish the joy of having and raising children.
Does too much information kill the joy of being a parent?